Black and white conversion of colour photographs is best done with a Channel Mixer
Adjustment Layer. This method works well with photos that aren't too dependent on colour from
the point of view of composition such as a field of yellow sunflowers or sunsets with
vibrant colours in the sky. Strong shapes and lines, and bold compositions are best.
I decided to do a black and white conversion using a photo I made when I was in Inner Mongolia of the airport at a town called
Xilinhot. The airport itself is very small - what you see in the photo below is the entirety of the
airport buildings - meant to be similar in shape and style to a traditional Mongolian yurt.
For beginners it can be difficult to visualise just how your conversion is going to look so to start I recommend
that you do a check using the Desaturate Tool to get an idea of what your
image will look like as a monochrome photograph. The quick way to do
this is to do Ctrl+Shift+U (or Image>Adjustments>Desaturate). If you want to see how a
partial desaturation will look like, then go to Image>Adjustments>Hue/Saturation and play
with the slider.
|Above: Original image in colour - Xilinhot Airport (Photo: Anne Darling)
However, this is not the best way to do a black and white photo conversion and you will
get a much better tonal range by using either Grayscale Mode, a Black and White Adjustment
Layer or a Channel Mixer Adjustment Layer. Using the Channel Mixer can give
great results and is the method I am going to show you here. Channel Mixer is available with
Photoshop CS, Paint Shop Pro and Elements (Enhance>Convert to Black & White).
If you have the chance to shoot in RAW before converting your photos to monochrome pictures,
then I recommend you do so in order to retain all the information in-camera without any
editing being done by the camera software.
If you have Photoshop CS5 you can download Adobe Camera Raw as a free plug-in which will
let you make any necessary adjustments to your image and save it as a separate file while
retaining all the original information on the RAW file for future use if you change your
mind about anything.
If you don't have CS5 then you can use the software that came with the camera. For example, I use
Canon Digital Photo Professional as part of my digital work flow. Whatever software you use, probably the
two most important features are exposure and contrast. Tweak these until you get the
desired result and save the image as a TIFF without compression, not a JPEG. A TIFF file can be
further manipulated without suffering a loss of quality each time you save it whereas a JPG cannot.
Open up the new file in Photoshop and before you make the black and white conversion,
create a copy of the background layer (Layer>Duplicate Layer). Then go
to Layer>New Adjustment Layer and select Channel Mixer. Click OK and a new Adjustment Layer will be added
at the same time as a dialogue box pops open. Check the box where is says Monochrome and it will convert the
image instantly to a monochrome photo but with the option of tweaking the red, green and blue channels.
You can adjust the sliders as much as you wish but for best results try to ensure that the
values add up 100 per cent (give or take a little) otherwise you will find the shadows or
highlights have been clipped. If you find there are certain areas which are lacking detail, you
can rectify this by using the Dodge and Burn Tools.
You cannot use Dodge or Burn when one of the adjustment layers is selected so make sure you
reselect the copy you made of the background and click on the Dodge Tool on the toolbar. Choose
a big, soft brush from the Options Bar and set Hardness to 0 per cent. If you're working on
biggish areas like the sky you can choose a brush size of around 800 or more. Choose Shadows from the Range drop-down
menu and choose a low Exposure (also on the Options Bar) of around 5 per cent. Now you can use
the brush to go over areas that need lightening. Adjust the size of the brush as necessary - may take
a bit of practice. And when you are ready, change the Range to Mid-tones and go over grayish
areas that need lightening.
The Burn Tool works inversely and will lighten dark areas. You can find the Burn Tool as a pop-out
on the same icon as the Dodge Tool. Take your time over this, building things up slowly while
making sure you don't lose any detail and that you don't over-darken or lighten any areas.
Dodge and burn are powerful tools and well worth mastering. The black and white conversion can now be seen below.
The last step is to add a filter to warm things up a little. Go to Layer>New Adjustment
Layer and select Photo Filter. Click OK and from the dialogue box select Warming
Filter (85) which will create a nice, warm tone to your monochrome picture. Below you can see
the final image.
I hope you found this tutorial on black and white conversion useful. Coming next is another
tutorial on how to convert to do a black and white conversion using Grayscale Mode or a Black
and White Adjustment Layer.
Top of Page